Community Members Protest Ficus Tree Removal

A group of residents and business owners are pleading with the city of Beverly Hills to stop the ongoing removal of 87 Ficus trees on Robertson Boulevard, but time to save the trees is running out.

The tree removals were approved by City Council in December 2022 in order to repair areas of the sidewalk damaged by the Ficuses’ fast-growing roots.

Spearheading the “save the trees” campaign is Wendy Klenk, who sounded the alarm when she saw the removals begin outside of her Robertson Boulevard office earlier this month.

“These are healthy trees and they are part of the fabric of this community and they have such value,” Klenk said to the Beverly Hills City Council at its Feb. 7 study session. “We just want to save the trees and I understand that there’s issues with the sidewalk, but we just want to know what the alternatives are.”

Since then, the trees have only continued to fall and tensions to rise. Klenk has gathered over 100 written signatures in favor of stopping the removals by walking the street daily and has also collected almost 250 signatures in an online petition.

As of Feb. 14, approximately half of the trees slated for removal have been taken down, Deputy City Manager Keith Sterling told the Courier.

The City Council is slated to discuss the removals in a Feb. 21 meeting in response to the public outcry. However, with three to four trees being removed daily six days a week, the majority of trees will likely be gone by then, Sterling confirmed.

From the city’s perspective the removals are necessary to prevent tripping dangers and protect infrastructure.

“Robertson Boulevard is one of the City’s major commercial corridors with a large number of thriving businesses and relatively high pedestrian traffic,” Sterling told the Courier. “The existing sidewalk has a high frequency of repair needs due to the trees located adjacent to the sidewalk. In addition, we’ve received several trip and fall claims in the last few years.”

If City Council does not stop the removals, Klenk said she is prepared to take legal action and is currently researching methods of recourse with local attorney Alex Asadi, who also has an office on Robertson Boulevard.

Klenk is highly concerned about the environmental impacts of removing the mature trees.

“I don’t have to be an environmentalist to know it’s not healthy to chop down 87 trees in a few weeks,” Klenk told the Courier. “The release of CO2 is not good and the poor trees haven’t done anything nor have the innocent birds and bees living in them.”

The actual environmental consequences of removing the trees are unknown. The city opted not to complete an environmental impact report for the $227,000 project as the Planning Division deemed it exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.

The city plans to replant the street with crape myrtles and Mexican fan palms.

Diane Nicole, a horticulturist and director of the Los Angeles Audubon Society, told the Courier this is not an ecologically sound replacement for Ficus trees.

“Crape myrtles is a small ornamental tree that does not provide much shade and has few ecosystem services,” she said, adding that they also have a shorter life span than Ficus trees. “Then they are mixing them in with Mexican fan palms, which also don’t provide much shade.”

In addition, the city will install an irrigation system to water the new trees whereas the native Ficus trees were self-sustaining.

Nicole is also concerned about how the loss of shade from the mature Ficus trees – the oldest of which are around 60 years old–will cause hotter temperatures on Robertson Boulevard.

“The city failed to recognize that we are in a biodiversity extinction and climate crisis and one of the consequences of that is that it’s getting hotter,” she said. “Given that reality, it is reckless to deforest an entire street of its leafy canopy.”

The loss of shade is already having unintended consequences.

Michele Randall, the co-owner of family run business Art One Gallery, said she can no longer place most pieces of art in her front window because they will be damaged by the sun. In addition, the temperature inside the store is already noticeably warmer.

“Our window display is almost how we get all of our local customers,” she told the Courier. “It’s also an unfair burden on our business that we’re going to be spending more money in cooling costs.”

Shady trees have a powerful cooling effect. A study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that having 40% of tree canopy cover on a sidewalk can cool temperatures on that block down by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit on a hot day.

Randall said her family is considering installing shades or UV protection on the window, but noted that neither of these solutions would allow passersby to see window art.

“We really understand that those trees can be damaging,” she said. “However, when they are making such a dramatic difference in the makeup of a community of a street, this should have been treated with a little more of a delicate hand.

“Emotionally, we are really heartbroken over this,” she added.

Some business owners, however, are glad to be free of the Ficus tree’s pesky roots. Debra Carter, a showroom manager for Carter Hardware on Robertson Boulevard, has dealt with at least four incidents of flooding due to tree roots invading her pipes. She recently spent $15,000 to repair damages. In addition, she said that the Ficus tree that formerly stood in front of her store was infested with ants, gnats and rats.
“We are generally tree lovers,” Carter told the Courier. “But that particular tree, I’m not sad at all that it’s gone. It messed with my business and my mind.”
Sterling said business owners on Robertson were notified of the proposed project in July 2022 and all businesses within a 500-foot radius of the project received an additional notification in January. Nevertheless, the removals still came as a surprise to some including Ansari, who was shocked to see trees going down outside of his law office on Robertson Boulevard. Ansari said he is currently consulting with environmental attorney Jamie Hall, who recently won a court petition to halt the planned removal of around 13,000 trees in the city of LA for sidewalk repairs. Ansari is considering filing an injunction against the city to try and halt the removals.
“When we come here to the office it’s so sad,” he said. “I miss walking with all these green trees and the oxygen and everything else they were producing. Now they are just gone.”

Ficus trees lining Robertson Boulevard